Ease of use and the Ribbon

Ease of use and the Ribbon

I have Office 2007 on my newest computer at home, which I bought primarily to familiarise myself with the Ribbon interface and allow me to discuss it from a position other than ignorance. I use Word and Excel 2007 on that computer, and find the ease of use about the same as earlier releases. Some things are easier to find and use, some things are harder.

My 9 year old daughter recently asked if she could use PowerPoint at home, as she had started to use it at her new school for making little presentations and wanted to make her own at home for fun. I put a shortcut on her desktop and let her go for it, and she has produced some pretty impressive stuff with no help from me. Not only that, but my 7 year old daughter is now doing the same thing, having learnt just by looking over my eldest daughter’s shoulder. They don’t ask me for any help, they just get on with it.

A vindication of the Ribbon’s ease-of-use claims? Not exactly. You see, they are using PowerPoint on my old computer, which has the completely Ribbonless Office 2000.

I don’t hate the Ribbon. I just don’t see much benefit in it, even for novice users.


  1. It’s not intended as scientific proof of anything, but what it indicates is that the old interface is sufficiently easy to use that an untrained 7 year old child can easily produce work with it.

    The question is, does an interface like that really need to be dumbed down any further? Was there an actual ease-of-use problem that needed fixing? When is an interface so easy to use that it doesn’t need making any easier? When 4 year olds can use it? Toddlers? Babies? Embryos?

    Could my kids have produced more or less, with more or less ease, on a Ribboned PowerPoint? I could perform an experiment now, but it would be biased in one direction by familiarity with the 2000 interface, and in the opposite direction by familiarity with the underlying concepts. So I don’t know.

    I do know that now I’m used to it, the Office 2007 Ribbon doesn’t make a significant difference to me in either ease of use or productivity. It isn’t significantly better or worse, it’s just different. In my view, pointlessly different.

    That’s the Office 2007 Ribbon. AutoCAD 2009’s Ribbon, being much better in some ways and much worse in others, is something else again.

  2. Interesting take. Funny, I took the exact opposite opinion of the Mojave Experiment. Was is an experiment, of course not. Marketing ploy surely.

    But I consider myself somewhat tech savvy and had the exact same pre-conceived opinions of Vista. Simply, “what I heard”. I recently upgraded to Vista and have been pleasantly surprised. Sure, there have been some minor annoyances (like installing CATIA). But, the overall user experience in Vista is BETTER..

    With regards to ribbons – are they easier? not sure. But from my perspective, once I got the hang of it – they are cooler than the older UI. Not sure I can quantify “cooler” other than from a user experience, I think its better.

    We all have our quirks. But to hear that your overall opinion of Vista comes down to your mouse? IMO – pretty funny!

  3. metis

    ok, yes gui is faster than command line for many things, however with 1-2 letter combinations, i can access most acad commands with my left hand while mousing, and not having to perform multiple clicks. it’s much faster.

    granted screens are bigger and higher resolution, but how does wasting more of that drawing space improve my workflow? very simply doing the same thing with more space is not efficient use of space, and when you auto hide the ribbon you’re just adding more clicks or hovers to accomplish the same thing.

    i’ve yet to hear a good argument as to why i should take more time and more space to do something.

    is it easier to learn? maybe. realistically, if you can’t read “tools” or “edit” and sus out what they mean in the menu drop downs you probably don’t need to be using word, or acad.

  4. DC > But to hear that your overall opinion of Vista comes down to your mouse? IMO – pretty funny!

    That’s not really a true reflection of what I wrote. My overall opinion of Vista as an OS (which is actually pretty neutral) isn’t quite the same thing as how usable I find it on my specific system.

    Full mouse functionality is a significant matter to me, partly because extended use of my hands causes me some discomfort. The ability to scroll windows that don’t have focus is a feature that saves me dozens, maybe hundreds of clicks a day.

    Vista would have to be spectacularly better than XP to make up for losing that feature, and it simply isn’t. Like using a Ribboned app, there are some pros to using Vista and some cons. Overall, I find it about the same, or at least it would be about the same if I felt like putting in the time, effort and expense involved in researching and buying a new mouse. Which I don’t.

    Find it amusing if you like, but usability is important to me and the “cool” factor leaves me cold.

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